Homily February 10th, 2023 

Friday of the Fifth Week in Ordinary Time – Mk 7:31-37

            It’s a fact that we tend to remember things better when they stand out or are quite different from the norm. It’s really no wonder, then, that the miracle recounted in today’s Gospel should stick out in Mark’s memory. Jesus does three things that surprise us. First, Jesus could’ve healed the man simply by laying hands on him. This is what the crowds asked for, and the Gospels very often show Jesus healing people in this way. For that matter, Jesus could’ve healed the man with just a word, but He doesn’t. Secondly, Jesus refuses to heal the man in public; He takes the man away from the crowds in order to heal him. This healing is done in private, as opposed to all the previous ones. Thirdly, Jesus chooses to heal the man through a very involved process. Mark lists seven different steps in the miracle: going away from the crowd, putting His finger in the man’s ears, spitting (which was believed to have healing properties)[1], touching the man’s tongue, looking up to heaven, groaning, and saying “Ephphatha!” Certainly this miracle tells us a great deal about Jesus, but if we reflect on the man himself who was healed, we can learn a great deal about the value of suffering and about Jesus’ love for us, especially when we suffer. So then, let us consider two points: first, the sufferings of this un-named man who was healed by Jesus, and the importance and value of suffering.

            Regarding the first, the man who was healed was clearly no stranger to anguish: he knew what it meant to suffer. He was certainly deaf, and although translated in different ways into English, the Greek word Mark uses, μογιλάλον, was a common way to translate the Hebrew word for “mute.”[2] Yet, notice that it was only, and precisely, because the man had suffered so much that he was able to draw so close to Jesus. Jesus had no problem healing hundreds or thousands of people simply with a word or by laying His hands on them, but this man received something greater. It was precisely because of his misery and sufferings that he was able to draw so close to Jesus, or, better said, that Jesus drew so near to him and took compassion on him.

            The universality of the experience of suffering is alluded to in the way Mark refers to the man who was healed. Sometimes those who are healed are more or less identified: the daughter of Jairus, the widow’s son, the Syrophenician woman, and so on. Yet, the Greek here doesn’t even use the word “man”; the construction, difficult to render in English, says simply “a deaf mute” who is male.[3] Suffering is truly a universal experience, one felt by all of God’s children; Saint Augustine is often quoted as saying, “God had one son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering.”[4]

            This naturally leads to the consideration of our second point: if everyone has to suffer, what is the value of suffering? What’s the point? This is a question that perhaps we ourselves have asked in the midst of the darkness of anguish and pain. In short, on the merely human level, there is no good answer for the question of suffering. Yes, if we remain on the merely natural, human plane, suffering remains a mystery. That doesn’t mean that there’s no reason for it, but that the reason is supernatural. As Pope Saint John Paul II wrote, “In order to perceive the true answer to the ‘why’ of suffering, we must look to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery. . . .  Christ causes us to enter into the mystery and to discover the ‘why’ of suffering, as far as we are capable of grasping the sublimity of divine love.”[5]

            In other words, the meaning of suffering is revealed in Divine Love. As we already mentioned, God uses sufferings to draw us back to Him, to take us away from those things to which we are attached and that can keep us from loving Him with our whole hearts. Suffering isn’t just physical; it can be emotional or even spiritual, but it always a call from Christ to join Him on the Cross, to draw near to Him as we leave behind those things that call to us on this earth.

            This doesn’t change the fact, though, that suffering is often difficult. Once Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta met a patient suffering from terrible cancer, and she told him, “Now you come so close to Jesus on the cross that He is kissing you.” The patient joined hands and said, “Mother Teresa, please tell Jesus to stop kissing me.”[6] Yet, even when Jesus doesn’t seem to hear our prayers for relief or healing, we know, with the certainty of our faith, that His love surrounds us, and that He permits such sufferings only for our good.

            When we see suffering around us, it is God’s way of moving us to compassion and love, to encourage us to become more Christ-like in caring for our brothers and sisters in need. We can ask ourselves: how do I respond to suffering? Do I get angry or bitter, or complain? Or do I accept it as a loving invitation to draw near to the “Man of Sorrows,” who suffered so much for my sake and asks me to join Him on the royal road of the cross? Today, through the intercession of Our Lady, Health of the Sick, let us ask for the grace to be like the man in today’s Gospel who, at the end of his sufferings, was rewarded by being able to draw near to Christ, precisely because he has suffered so much.

[1] This is sort of odd; it seems that the Jews did not like spitting very much, but Roman traditions record a healing of a blind man when the Emperor Vespasian spat on his eyes (Suetonius, Vespasian 7; Tacitus Hist. 4.81)—cited in Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, 1083—and Pliny (Nat. Hist. 38.7.36) writes, “I have . . . pointed out that the best of all safeguards against serpents is the saliva of a fasting human being. . . .  We spit on epileptics in a fit. . . .  In a similar way we ward off witchcraft . . . and mark early incipient boils three times with fasting saliva.” Cited in Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, 128. It seems, though, that the Jews really didn’t like spitting at things. 

[2] See Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, 3424: μογιλάλον is “the Septuagint translation for אִלֵּם, dumb [i.e., mute], Isaiah 35:6.”

[3] καὶ φέρουσιν αὐτῷ κωφὸν καὶ μογιλάλον, καὶ παρακαλοῦσιν αὐτὸν ἵνα ἐπιθῇ αὐτῷ τὴν χεῖρα. The only reason we know it’s a man is because the adjectival nouns are masculine.

[4] It seems fairly common to attribute this to him, but no one really knows where it’s from. Cited, for example, in: Micheal Leach, Why Stay Catholic? (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2011), 31.

[5] Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris, 13. Likewise, another excellent resource is Bl. Carlo Gnocchi’s The Pedagogy of Innocent Suffering.

[6] Mother Teresa, Words to Love by, 64.



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